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December 4, 2011
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - PS3 Review
Release Distributer Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
11/11/2011All InteractiveBethesdaBethesda1None
Media HDD Install Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is out 11/11/11.
Prior to its release in early November there was a huge buzz surrounding Skyrim (more officially known as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim), which is completely understandable given its predecessor Oblivion (also known as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) was many gaming sites Game of the Year back in 2007. There have been some blockbuster titles released this year, and particularly in the past month or so, but Skyrim has the potential to trump them all. Has Bethesda delivered another ‘Game of the Year' worthy title? The short answer is yes, the longer answer is yes with an asterisk. For more information about that asterisk, read on...

Skyrim is in the midst of a civil war pitting the Nordic Stormcloaks (so named because their leader is Ulfric Stormcloak) up against the Imperial army. The Stormcloaks feel like their way of life is being threatened by the Imperials, and they have a fair point seeing as the Imperials feel like they run Skyrim and everyone should adopt their way of life – religion included. To add to Skyrim's woes dragons, who have not been seen for so long that the people thought them myths, have returned and are spreading fire and teeth-related deaths at record pace. Amid this turmoil comes a hero, a Dragonborn with the power of The Voice (i.e. you can speak dragon) who might be able to turn the tables in Skyrim's favour, and with a bit or work resolve the civil war too.

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Taking on a couple of wolves.
Once the game gets underway you have to choose the race, sex and name of your character. The latter two are easy enough, but when it comes to race you have an abundance of choices (there are ten races to choose from) and all of them have their own unique perks. Argonians (lizard-like creatures) can breathe underwater, Nords have strong fire resistance and Khajiit (cat-like creatures) can see in the dark to name but a few. With your choice made you're free to play the rest of the game however you like.

Many games offer the pretense of being open-world games, but they lock off areas until you progress to a certain point, or they put gatekeepers in places that mean you really can't go there until you're at a certain level (Dark Souls anyone?). Skyrim is a true open-world experience, letting you roam wherever you like whenever you like, and one of the first things you'll notice about Skyrim is that the world is huge. It's so big that making your way across the world on foot, while possible, is not the ideal way to travel. Luckily you have options – you can buy, steal or find a horse to ride, you can hire a carriage to get you to the bigger towns (the trip is instantaneous) and later in the game you can turn into a werewolf and race across the world faster than any horse. Once you've found a location you can fast travel to it by selecting it on the map, so there are plenty of options other than relying solely on your feet.

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The Wood Elf in a rather chilly location.
Not only is Skyrim's world huge, there is no shortage of things to do either. You'll pick up more quests than you know what to do with, and even the simplest-sounding ones can burgeon into something much more involved than you expected. Then there's the problem of getting side-tracked during a quest, when someone you meet gives you a more interesting quest to try, or you spot a nearby landmark and decide to take a quick detour to it. Invariably ‘quick' detours result in more new quests, and before you know it you've spent hours doing quests other than the one you set out to do.

Even without taking detours the best-intentioned questing can be interrupted by a rogue dragon landing in the vicinity and trying to burn/freeze/shock you into an early grave. Dragons look a lot more menacing than they really are, and in many cases you'll be able to dispatch them with whatever weapon you're using for regular enemies. Defeating dragons earns you a dragon soul which can be used to unlock Shouts you'll find throughout your travels, as well as some valuable dragon scales and bones.

Shouts are skills unique to Dragonborn and dragons themselves. It turns out that when a dragon breathes fire (or cold or electricity) they are actually speaking the dragon language, thus engaging in a deadly conversation. Throughout your travels you will come across ‘words of power', which are words in the dragon language that cause an effect such as fire breath or a forceful push to anything in range. Some of these words are ready for use as soon as you find them but others require dragon souls to unlock them before you can use them, making those random dragon encounters important to your progress.

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Skyrim's map is absolutely massive.
Like most RPGs you earn experience for killing enemies and completing quests and once you have enough experience you level up. When you level up you get to add ten points to either magicka, health or stamina as well as earn yourself a perk point. Perks are special skills or bonuses you can unlock within any of the eighteen skill-trees in the game. The skill-trees cover pretty much every aspect of any character you create, so there are trees like destruction, illusion and conjuration for magic users, lockpicking and stealth for the thief-oriented characters, as well as light and heavy armour trees, and trees single or double-handed weapons.

The excellent part about the skill-tree system is that your proficiency in a chosen skill increases through use, so any time you swing a single-handed weapon your skill in that increases, and the same goes for any time you're hit wearing heavy armour, or you pick a lock, or you use a particular magic. As your skill increases more perks become available in that skill-tree, allowing you to unlock new attacks or bonuses to that skill (i.e. more powerful magic, easier lockpicking or better haggling to name just a few). Sometimes you'll want to hold off spending your perks until your skill reaches a certain level, ensuring your character is the best they can be in a particular skill-tree.

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Fighting with the Frost Troll.
Combat in Skyrim is a straightforward affair no matter what your playing style is. At any time you can equip something into each hand, be it a melee weapon, some magic or a shield. So you can run around with a mace in one hand and a shield in the other, or a sword in one hand and magic in the other, or any other variation you see fit to try. Some weapons require the use of both hands such as greatswords and bows but you'll generally get an attack bonus that offsets your inability to dual wield.

Attacking is as easy as pushing L1 or R1 depending on which hand you want to use. Holding down the button results in a power attack that can stagger your enemies, and there is a different power attack for each direction you hold while swinging. You block, use magic and shoot arrows the same way, making combat as straightforward as you could want.

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Talking to a lady in the tavern.
There is so much to do in Skyrim that even if I wanted to I'd have no chance listing everything you could potentially do. Like in Oblivion you can join the thief guild and dark brotherhood (an assassin's guild), you can buy property and buy furniture for it, you can now get married, you can make weapons and armour via smithing, you can make potions via crafting and enchant weapons too. Suffice to say there is no shortage of content here and if you attempted to do everything I'd be surprised if you could do it in less than one-hundred hours. Even a relatively quick playthrough will take thirty or more hours I'd say. I've been playing close to thirty hours and I've only done one quest on the main quest line…

As much as Skyrim reinforces Bethesda's iron grip on the open-world RPG, it also reinforces their grip on a much less desirable title – the king of bugs. Like the Fallout games and Oblivion before it, Skyrim suffers from a number of bugs, some of them game-breaking. I've been lucky when it comes to game-breaking bugs in that I haven't had any – the worst I've had is the game freezing three or four times in the span of an hour forcing a reset. However any trip to a Skyrim forum is littered with complaints about quests not completing when they should, people not appearing up where they should, people coming back from the dead, and other miscellaneous bugs, none of which are good.

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Dragons play a major role in Skyrim's world.
On the PS3 save game files are growing to unwieldy size in the range of ten MB and a recent patch to fix that and some of the other bugs has resulted in more bugs – like dragons flying backwards and failing to engage the hero in combat. At their worst these bugs can spoil your enjoyment of an otherwise awesome game, but for many their impact will be much less severe. Aside from the bugs there is very little to complain about. The difficulty sometimes spikes within a single cave but it never got so bad that I couldn't complete the area. I don't like the lack of a roll move to dodge attacks and the fact you can't block when dual-wielding two weapons – both of these feel a little outdated these days, but they are minor issues.

Visually Skyrim is very impressive, especially considering the size of the world. Up close faces lack a little bit of detail but they do, for the most part, look realistic (if simple) without the waxy look of so many other games. There's a high level of detail to towns and all the big towns feel lived in, with people running here and there on errands or in the case of kids, killing time. In smaller towns where the weather leans towards blizzards it's harder to find people in the streets, but that makes perfect sense, with them inside away from the cold.

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I sense a battle is about to commence!
The wilderness has its fair share of detail too, with great variety in flora and fauna. You can harvest flowers as ingredients for your next potion, and depending on where you are you'll see foxes, wolves, bears, rabbits, deer, mammoths and the odd horker (which is a lot like a walrus) to name a few. There is no shortage of water, be it a stream, a waterfall or a bay, and it all looks great. Even the sky looks excellent in Skyrim, especially at night when the moon is at its biggest and an aurora-like effect takes place. Some of the views you get as you make your way up a mountainside are truly beautiful and have an impressive draw distance. The only drawback I've noticed is occasional texture pop-in, but on the whole that's quite negligible.

There are a huge number of spoken lines in the game, and it's delivered very well throughout. Even the stranger characters you meet such as Sheogorath, the mad Daedric prince, are handled well. Oftentimes you'll walk in on a conversation and pick up valuable snippets of information those characters wouldn't have given your character directly, so it pays to listen to what's going on around you. The one knock on the voice-acting is that everyone in the game is voiced by one of a small number of actors, meaning multiple characters will have the same voice. It's not a big issue at all, but it is a bit jarring sometimes.

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They be some massive Mammoths in Skyrim!
The music is composed by Jeremy Soule who also worked on other Elder Scrolls games Oblivion and Morrowind, and he's nailed the feel of Skyrim perfectly with lots of chanting and choral pieces. The music doesn't play constantly, but pipes up when the on-screen action warrants it, such as during battles or when there is danger nearby. The sound effects are what you'd expect and sound fine without any clear standouts.

Skyrim is awesome in so many ways, but is it a worthy candidate for Game of the Year? It's definitely in the picture but for me I can't have it right up there with the best games on account of the (occasionally game-breaking) bugs. These will affect everyone's experience differently but any game where you have to hold your breath during loading screens, hoping it won't freeze, can't be Game of the Year in my book. That said, in almost every other conceivable way, Skyrim is a rollicking good time from start to finish. There's an incredible amount of things to do and you could easily invest one-hundred plus hours into it. Dragon fights are heaps of fun, the different perks and skills add replayability and the world is believable and entertaining. Despite the many bugs, Skyrim is a cracking title that just about everyone will enjoy.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSIt looks wonderful throughout, which is quite a feat given the huge world.
SOUNDExcellent score, reasonable sound effects and top-notch voice-acting (that would benefit from more unique voices).
GAMEPLAYSkyrim is heaps of fun but there are a few bugs (some significant) and combat would benefit from a bit more variety (evasive rolls, more parry skills).
VALUEIt's hard to put a number on this – Skyrim is huge and doesn't get boring. Ok, it's not that hard to put a number on.
OVERALLThe only thing stopping Skyrim from a mammoth score are the bugs, and they will vary person to person. It's epic in every sense of the word and a game everyone over fifteen should play.

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